Hi, I have more questions popping up for you 🙂
Is enlightenment the same as moksha or is it the same as self-realization?
Ted: It all depends on one’s understanding of these words.
Vedanta makes a distinction between gaining an initial “glimpse” or understanding of your true nature as limitless conscious existence and fully assimilating that understanding. That is, there is a difference between knowing who you are and standing with unshakable conviction in your true nature as the self.
Once we have realized who we are by means of shravana or exposure to the teachings and manana or laying to rest all doubts concerning the their truth, then comes nididhyasana, the effort of constantly “practicing the knowledge.” That is, having exposed the erroneous nature of the ideas we have hitherto accepted about ourselves, we now need to de-condition the mind of all its habitual thought-patterns by continually monitoring the thoughts that arise and measuring their validity in terms of what we now know to be true. We have to continuously apply our understanding of the fundamental non-dual nature of reality as well as how that understanding informs our role we play and contribution we make within the context of the apparent reality as the person we seem to be to each and every situation, circumstance, encounter, interaction, and relationship of our lives. There is no shortcut or easy means of taking care of this business. We simply have to roll up our spiritual sleeves and do the work of scrubbing away the layers of dust that have clouded the mirror of our mind so that it can more accurately reflect the shine of the self.
Moksha is ultimate inner freedom, freedom from dependency on objects for one’s sense of wellbeing, fulfillment, security, peace, or happiness. It only comes about when one knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that one’s true nature the limitless conscious existence upon which all objects depend for their existence, yet which itself remains ever free of and untainted by the character of any and all objects. Just as the essential nature of gold is not changed but the character of any ornament into which it is fashioned or the essential nature of water remains wholly unaffected by the shape of the waves or the various bodies in which it pools or channels in which it runs, so limitless conscious existence is not affected in any essential way by any of the objective forms as which it seemingly manifests due to the conditioning influence of its own inherent power of Maya. When you know that nothing can enhance or diminish your essential nature in any way or to any degree whatsoever, you are free.
Until such time as you are as sure that you are immutable limitless conscious existence as you once were that you were the body-mind-sense complex, you are still bound. You may very well know that your true nature is limitless conscious existence, but you have not yet fully accepted it as the truth.
Elvin: Moksha is self-actualization. So when we understand or realize who we are (self-realized), is it not the same as moksha (self-actualization)?
Ted: You’d think it would be, but except for perhaps the one-in-ten-billion who gets the much coveted “instant enlightenment,” it is rarely—if ever—the case. If the mind is completely ripe, self-realization can result in immediate self-actualization, but almost invariably the de-conditioning of the mind takes some time. Hence, the reason the scriptures speak of the need for nididhyasana.
Elvin: Is it okay to say that enlightenment is a word we do not need to use or [something we should] pursue?
Ted: Sure, but “enlightenment” is not a word that appears in the scriptures. Moksha is the goal, but as moksha only comes though understanding, it is reasonable to speak of “enlightenment” as its precursor, so to speak. In this regard, be clear that moksha is not something to be attained, but rather realized (i.e., understood and assimilated), for moksha is our already existent true nature. Only because we fail to recognize it as such do we suffer.
Elvin: It is more important to focus on self-actualization in Karma Yoga sadhana?
Ted: Karma yoga is a means of preparing the mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge. So, technically speaking, one is not focusing on self-actualization while practicing karma yoga, for one is only practicing karma yoga because he has not yet realized his true nature. The karma yoga attitude will be spontaneous when self-actualization has occurred. Since what is spontaneous for the one who has assimilated self-knowledge serves as the sadhana for one who is seeking self-knowledge, however, we could say that karma yoga is a practice that contributes to the cultivation of one’s capacity to assimilate self-knowledge.
Karma yoga is a practice employed by someone who still takes himself to be a doer, an individual. Even while one continues to act with sense of personal will, one contemplates the logic that reveals the fact that the dharma-field itself functions according to an intrinsic self-sustaining design (as evidenced by the capacity for self-correction that is evident in every aspect of its operation) that enables it to accommodate any action by spontaneously reconfiguring its impersonal, inviolable, and infallible network of cause-and-effect occurrences in such a way as serves the best interests of the total, which includes one’s self. This understanding neutralizes binding vasanas because one realizes that whatever happens serves the best interests of the total—which, by extension, means it serves one’s own best interests as well, since one is part of the total.
Once it is firmly understood that not only is the dharma-field/universal order/Isvara in charge of the results of action, but that there are far too many factors influencing the results of action for any individual to be solely responsible for any given result, one’s sense of personal doership naturally drops off altogether.
It is at this point that the practice of karma yoga has borne its fruit. When one no longer needs a particular result and, moreover, knows that he is not in charge of results, then the mind ceases to be agitated by desire or disturbed by a sense of liability. Such a sattvic mind will be capable of registering an accurate reflection of the self, and consequently self-actualization will inevitably ensue.
Having said all that, be clear that karma yoga does not itself give self-realization or constitute self-actualization. While the practice of karma yoga is essential for purifying the mind, only self-knowledge eradicates self-ignorance. And only the full assimilation of self-knowledge results in self-actualization.